American Revolution & Soldiers of Color, from Massachusetts

POC: Patriots of Color

In considering the services of the Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, we are to reflect on them as far more magnanimous, because rendered to a nation which did not acknowledge them as citizens and equals, and in whose interests and prosperity they had less at stake...Bravery, under such circumstances, has a peculiar beauty and merit

Quoting Harriet Beacher Stowe, as quoted in The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution by William C Nell (1855)

At Virtual Americana, we will not gloss over the cruelty of the institution of slavery.

For all the dated arguments that this is just the way it was, even at this early time in our nation’s history there were many who found it abhorrent. That being said, there does exist some evidence that shows that from a legal standpoint, the attitudes towards, and conditions for the enslaved in New England were substantially different from those enslaved in southern colonies.

Enslaved individuals in Massachusetts could marry, own property, appear in court and even sue their masters. In many regards, they experienced similar treatment to apprentices and indentured servants, except that their service was not by choice and would continue for life, unless their freedom was purchased or granted. However, a reputation of better treatment and less severe working conditions does not negate the inherent violence of the ownership of human beings.

Peter Salem painting by Walkter J Williams, Jr. c1770s
A Tory and a patriot wrestle over a liberty tree banner while a Native watches, illustration depicts British and American struggle for land ownership in North America, published in Paris circa 1776.

Caption: A Tory and a patriot wrestle over a liberty tree banner while a Native watches, illustration depicts British and American struggle for land ownership in North America, published in Paris circa 1776.

No ethnic or cultural group can be summed up and generalized simply – all groups are made up of individuals with their own sense of agency and own motivations for the choices each individual makes. There are always exceptions, and in this it is no different. Generally speaking, in Massachusetts, existing local Indigenous populations in New England – whether they lived with their tribes, or in “Praying Towns” like Natick and Grafton, joined the local militias.

The Stockbridge Mohicans were among the tribes in Massachusetts that supported the Patriots. While many of the local Nations supported the Colonists, there were also many Indigenous Nations that supported the British in other Colonies. Different Nations had their own reasons for joining one side or the other of the war. Regarding the Mohicans in Stockbridge, historian Bryan Rindfleisch reasoned:

While such a decision likely involved a multitude of factors, one cannot get past the fact that the Mohican were completely surrounded by a settler community, known for its rabid opposition to the Stamp Act as well as for being a hotbed of activity for the Sons of Liberty. It would take no leap of the imagination to believe that the Mohican felt enormous pressure, if not the threat of intimidation and violence, to join the revolutionary movement. Yet the Stockbridge-Mohican also saw the revolution undoubtedly as an opportunity. If they sided with the American rebels and proved their loyalty, the new nation might respect or honor their attempts to reclaim lost lands and to protect their sovereignty.

Bryan Rindfleisch, Journal of the American Revolution website

The same goes for many Black inhabitants of Massachusetts, many, if not most chose the Patriot side of the war, having a more positive opinion of them versus the British. They hoped that the ideals of Natural Freedoms would apply to them as well when the war ended.

Boston also had its share of Black Loyalists, who sided with Britain, especially as slavery had been abolished in trial in Britain in about 1772. The next year, two residents of Massachusetts, Felix Holbrook and Prince Hall petitioned Colonial Legislature to end slavery. While unsuccessful, others did become successful after Massachusetts ratified its constitution in 1780.

Boston Massacre

The first to lose his life for the Patriot cause was Crispus Attucks, who died during the Boston Massacre, and according to sources at the time was leading a group of sailors in challenging the British soldiers. Attucks had escaped his enslaved conditions in Framingham and lived life by sail. On the other hand, in connection to the same events, Newton Prince, was a black businessman, located in Boston’s North End. He stood as a witness for both Captain Preston’s trial, and the trial of his soldiers, and expressed that the mob acted with intent to quarrel with the soldiers, were striking their muskets, and taunting them by calling “Fire, fire damn you fire, fire you lobsters, fire, you dare not fire.” When the British left Boston in 1776, Prince accompanied them.

Record Group 69: Records of the Work Projects Administration, 1922 - 1944Series: WPA Information Division Photographic Index, ca. 1936 - ca. 1942Item: Boston Massacre, 3/5/1770

Among the interesting discoveries was that for the most part the 1775 Army was completely integrated, except for officers. The next US conflict that had that level of integration in units, was the Vietnam War. This integration extended to equal pay for equal rank. There was a limit though – some local ranger units may have had an Indigenous Captain, but the highest proven rank for a black soldier was Corporal.

By the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill, these men were enlisting for a specific tour of duty–eight months–in a military that was forming the earliest regiments of what would become the Continental Army. This is not to say that Soldiers of Color were equally welcomed in all of the Colonies. Many Southern delegates wished to dismiss all of the Black soldiers, regardless of freedom status, however due to the bravery shown in the early battles within Massachusetts, this motion was defeated. When it came time to reenlist in 1776, and black soldiers were not permitted, they were able petition General Washington and be reenlisted, but limited to those who had faithfully served in the Army at Cambridge, however this limitation ultimately failed and soldiers of Color served in all military engagements of the Revolution.

There is some disagreement among historians on this fact, however. There was another Black man named Salem at the Battle of Bunker Hill though – Salem Poor was from Andover, a man who had been enslaved, but purchased his own freedom for £27 in 1769. On December of 1775, a number of white colonial officers petitioned the Massachusetts General Court on his behalf, stating:

Wee declare that A Negro Man Called Salem Poor of Col. Fryes Regiment Capt. Ames. Company in the late Battle at Charlestown, behaved like an Experienced officer, as Well as an Excellent Soldier, to Set forth Particulars of his Conduct Would be Tedious, Wee Would Only begg leave to Say in the Person of this Sd. Negro Centers a Brave & gallant Soldier. The Reward due to so great and Distinguisht a Caracter, Wee Submit to the Congress—

Sam Poor of Andover, in December of 1775
The 1975, 10 cent postage stamp depicting Salem Poor. Has small version of U.S. Bicentennial star United States Bicentennial star 1976 (geometry).svg

So who did kill Major Pitcairn? We may never know. Why out of all the people who have laid a possible claim to this accomplishment at the Battle of Bunker Hill is Peter Salem the name that is remembered? Historian J.L. Bell gives an excellent reason in this statement in his article on the subject. “Eventually, in the same way that Crispus Attucks became better known than other Boston Massacre victims, so Peter Salem became better known than most other veterans of Bunker Hill. They served as defiant symbols of African-American patriotism.”

What was the outcome of the service of Soldiers of Color?

Individuals, including Melnea Cass, at Crispus Attucks Memorial at a Boston Massacre Commemoration Title: Individuals, including Melnea Cass, at Crispus Attucks Memorial Creator: Mayor's Office of Public Service, City of Boston Date: 1976 March 5 Source: Collection 279.001, Boston 200 records File name: 279001_001 Rights: Copyright City of Boston Citation: Boston 200 records, Collection #279.001, City of Boston Archives, Boston
Black & Mulatto Soldiers
While loyal Service did not result in universal manumission and abolition of slavery nation-wide, many of these men did earn their freedom, and pro-abolition sentiment at least in Massachusetts reached a level such that slavery was ended much sooner than in other colonies. Many of these men were able to claim bounty lands, awarded to soldiers for service to the country. Sadly though, many of these men did live out their lives in relative poverty. Many needed to claim a soldier’s pension, only granted if in financial need, or their widows receive a widow’s pension.

Though their service did make residents in New England more minded to abolition, it did not mean all people of color were free, even after slavery ended. One of the more tragic tales to befall one of the veterans, is that of Jude Hall. Three of his sons were kidnapped either over minor debts, or by unscrupulous men, and sent south and sold into slavery, though they were born free. One, through his illiteracy, was tricked into signing a debt much larger than what he owed, and was seized. Sadly, Jude died unable to find or free his three sons. Silas Royal, himself a veteran, also faced abduction and attempted sale into slavery after having been freed. Though this tale ended somewhat happier–the family that he served both before and after freedom had him rescued.

In the mid 1760s there were approximately 5000 enslaved people living in Massachusetts. There were approximately 800 people described as “Negroes” in Boston, a city with about 15,500. Attitudes towards slavery were such that by 1783 chattell slavery was essentially abolished in the state. The 1790 census counted 5463 free persons of color in the state and zero enslaved persons. However, this is not to be confused with people of color having all of the same rights as white citizens. Many colonists had prejudicial opinions regarding Black and Mulatto residents, and while some individuals owned homes and businesses, many more worked in fields like farming, laboring, and sailing. Meeting Houses were segregated, and White women marrying non-white, or mixed race men may find themselves seated with non-white women. Still, there were a fair amount of cross-cultural relationships between Colonists of European descent, Native descent, and African descent, with various amounts of individual choice involved.

What Was the Outcome of the Service of Indigenous Soldiers

Indigenous Soldiers
Already the number of Indigenous people in Massachusetts was much lower due to earlier wars and disease. In many ways, the number of Indigenous men who served and died in the Revolution put an end to some of the praying towns like Natick, leaving behind widows and children. White colonists continued purchasing land around Native settlements, often resulting in pushing them out of the area altogether. In the 1782 Mohegan Tribe census, Rebecca Tanner, mother of Amos Tanner and his four brothers, is listed as having “lost her 5 sons in ye Army.” While Black and Mulatto veterans had the ability to draw a military pension if in need, as members of sovereign tribes, the same benefits did not apply to Native veterans and their widows.
Loyalty Repaid with Further Losses
At Virtual Americana we want to acknowledge that the American Revolution started on lands that European Colonists seized from Indigenous Nations that were already occupying them. For those that chose the side of the Patriots, their loyalty was met with little regard for their land rights, culture, or way of life. Indeed, they fared little better than those Nations that sided with the British.
Drawing of a member of the Stockbridge Militia from the Mohican or Mahican Tribe
Drawing of a member of the Stockbridge Militia from the Mohican or Mahican Tribe c. 1778 by Johann Von Ewald
Stone Slab memorial dedicated to Prince Estabrook on the lawn of the Buckman Tavern in Lexington, MA. From Find a Grave.


  • Brookline, MA
    Prince (Boylston) 
    Adam (Gardner) 
    Peter (White) 
  • Cambridge, MA
    Cato Boardman 
    David Lamson (described as musatto, chosen in Menotomy to capture British supply caravan)
    Cato Stedman 
    Cuff Whittemore 
  • Charlestown, MA
    Cato Wood
  • Dedham, MA
    Thomas Ferrit 
    Isaac Comecho (Native, tribe unknown)
  • Dorchester, MA
    Caesar Augustus (first Black man captured on Battle Road, Captured close to Charleston Neck)
  • Framingham, MA
    Jeffrey Hemenway (Minuteman)
    Peter Salem (Minuteman)
  • Lexington, MA
    Eli Burdoo
    Silas Burdoo (wealthiest, last survivor)
    Prince Estabrook (First Black man wounded in the War)
  • Westford, MA
    Caesar Bason 

Probable, but not proven:


  • Montville, CT
    Samuel Ashbow Jr. (Native, Mohegan, 1st Native killed in Rev, @Bunker Hill)
  • Pomfret, CT
    Asaba (Grosvenor)
    John Wampee (Native, Tunxis)
  • Amesbury, MA
    Scipio Gray
  • Andover, MA
    Philip Abbot (Killed)
    Cuff Chambers
    Caesar Frye
    Prince Johonnot – (Was a Minuteman, became surveyor of highways)
    Salem Poor (purchased his own freedom, only Private honored for bravery @ Bunker Hill)
  • Bedford, MA
    Jeffrey Hartwell
  • Boston, MA
    Jamaica James
    Anthony Shaswell
  • Cambridge, MA
    Cuff Whittemore – wounded
  • Chelmsford, MA
    Barzillai Lew (fifer, father of 13 children, many also musicians)
  • Dracut, MA
    Smith Coburn
  • Dedham, MA
    Isaac Comecho (Native, tribe unknown)
  • Fitchburg, MA
    Eden London – central figure in significant court case
  • Framingham, MA
    Blaney Grusha
    Jeffrey Hemenway (Minuteman)
    Peter Salem (Minuteman, Served in the most battles – 7)
  • Hatfield, MA
    Asahel Wood
  • Hopkinton, MA
    Abel Ephraim (Native, Hassanamisco)
  • Medford, MA
    Cato Tufts (Boston roll lists him as having been drummed out of the service)
  • Natick, MA
    Thomas Dority
    Plato Lambert
    Newbury, MA:
    Pero Hall
    Caesar Wallace
  • New Marlb, MA
    James Huzzey
  • Pittsfield, MA
    Prince Hull
  • Sherborn, MA
    Samuel Comecho (Native, Tribe unknown)
  • Shirley, MA
    Titus Coburn (Minuteman)
  • Sudbury, MA
    Porter Cuddy
  • Westford, MA
    Caesar Bason (killed)
  • Exeter, NH
    Jude Hall – Served 8 Years, awarded Badge of Merit

Probable, but not proven:

  • Montville, CT
    John Ashbow (Native, Mohegan)
    Amos Tanner (Native, Mohegan)
    Joseph Tanner (Native, Mohegan)
  • New London, CT
    Simon Choychoy (Native, Mohegan)
    Jonothan Occum (Native, Mohegan)
    Peter Tecoomwwas (Native, Mohegan)
    Noah Uncas (Native, Mohegan)
  • Woodstock, CT
    John Sunsiman (Native, Pequot)
  • Acton, MA
    Titus Hayward
  • Amesbury, MA
    Robin Currier
    Joseph Demas
  • Amherst, MA
    Caesar Prutt
  • Andover, MA
    London Citizen
    Cato Freeman (changed name to Liberty)
    Caesar Poor
  • Billerica, MA
    Tony Andrews
  • Charlestown, MA
    Cuff Hayes
    Cato Newell
    Cato Wood
    Cuff Wood
  • Concord, MA
    Pompey Blackman (changed name in 1785 to Freeman)
    Caesar Quawco
  • Danvers, MA
    Prince Buxton
    Scipio Shaw
  • Dedham, MA
    Alexander Quapish (Native, Mashpee)
  • Deerfield, MA
    Caesar Bailey (Minuteman)
    Eber Wood
  • Dracut, MA
    Chester Parker
    Silas Royal
  • Framingham, MA
    Cato Hart
    Joseph Paugenit (Native, Mashpee)
  • Gloucester, MA
    Sampson Coburn (Attained rank of Corporal)
    Nathaniel Small
  • Grafton, MA
    Joseph Anthony
    Fortune Burnee (Minuteman)
  • Holliston, MA
    Caesar Hammon
  • Lancaster, MA
    Peter Ayres (Minuteman)
    John Chowen (Minuteman) (Deserted, described as molatto, but that self-identified as an Indian, had a Native wife, later reenlisted)
  • Lexington, MA
    Pomp Fisk
  • Lincoln, MA
    Peter Oliver
    Cato Smith
  • Ipswich, MA
    Boston Osborn
  • Malden, MA
    Charles Lines
  • Medfield, MA
    James Arcules
  • Medford, MA
    Jonathan Anthony Jr
    Peter Mitchell
  • Natick, MA
    James Anthony
    Cato Fair
  • Newbury, MA
    Mark Anthony
    Charles Jarvis
  • Newburyport, MA
    Tobias Wornton
  • Reading, MA
    Jack Green
  • Sherborn, MA
    Samuel Comecho
  • Stonefield, MA
    Isaiah Barjonah (described as Mulatto)
  • Stoneham, MA
    Jack Briant
    Cato Green
    Pomp Green
    John Potamia
    Titus Potamia
  • Stow, MA
    Caesar Wetherbee
  • Sudbury, MA
    Cuff Nimrod.
    Jacob Speen
  • Tewksbury, MA
    Marcus Shed
  • Waltham, MA
    Micah Bumpo
  • Woburn, MA
    Cornelius Lenox
    Prince Sutton
  • Worcester, MA
    Ebenezer Ephraim (Native, Hassanamisco)
  • Wrenham, MA
    Scipio Dodge
  • New Ipswich, NH
    Ezra Fuller
    Nathan Weston

Questions for Consideration

What factors might a man of African descent take into consideration when it came to choosing a side in the Revolution? What side do you think you might pick if you had to choose and why?
How has reading this changed your understanding of who participated in the American Revolution?
Pick 1-3 names from the list of men who have served or likely served and read about them in the linked Patriots of Color by George Quintal. What can we learn about their experiences?
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What questions do you have after reading this? Send us a comment!
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